Dear Senator Paul: Tell Dad to Shut Up
If Rand Paul wants to have any chance of running for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, not to mention the presidency itself, there is one thing he needs to do immediately.
Tell Dad to shut up.
In response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris, Ron Paul took a break from his usual blame-America-first rhetoric to blame France first. On an internet television show, Paul the Elder declared, "France has been a target for many, many years, because they’ve been involved in foreign affairs in Libya, and they really prodded us along in—recently in Libya, but they’ve been involved in Algeria, so they’ve had attacks like this, you know, not infrequently." He continued:
I put blame on bad policy that we don’t fully understand, and we don’t understand what they’re doing because the people who are objecting to the foreign policy that we pursue, they do it from a different perspective. They see us as attacking them, and killing innocent people, so yes, they, they have—this doesn’t justify, so don’t put those words in my mouth—it doesn’t justify, but it explains it.... It’s that overall policy which invites retaliation.
This is absurd on a number of levels. First, many of the Western interventions that Paul cites were efforts to attack and destroy Islamic terrorist groups. It now appears, for example, that the leader of the Paris attack was previously jailed for recruiting French Muslims to fight for al-Qaeda in Iraq. So when we attack Islamic terrorist networks, Islamic terrorists become angry with us. Thanks for that nugget of wisdom, but it doesn't make the destruction of terrorist networks any less desirable. (As for the Paris attacker's claim that he supported al-Qaeda because he was angry about US abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, this requires that you forget the giant, systematic war crimes perpetrated by jihadists wherever they try to seize power, as the Islamic State has recently reminded us in Syria.)
More important, there is no reason to believe that Charlie Hebdo was attacked as a protest against French foreign policy. If you take the attackers' own reported claims at face value, they were attacking to "avenge the prophet" against insults from the tabloid's cartoonists. And if you still don't believe that this is the motive, British radical Anjem Choudary has taken to the pages of USA Today and helpfully explained to us that Islamists such as himself "do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression" and regard blasphemy as a capital offense. You don't say.
But Ron Paul wants to overrule the Islamists' own statement of their motives. I call this Bin Laden Syndrome by Proxy: taking someone else's terrorist attack, fantasizing what you think his motives ought to be according to your world view, and then using the attack to try to get everyone to climb onto your own ideological hobby horse.
It goes without saying that there isn't much of a market for that outlook, particularly among the Republican base. It smacks too much of appeasement. There might be some good reasons to alter our foreign policy, but avoiding the anger of our sworn enemies is not one of those reasons.
So if Rand Paul wants a chance in 2016, he has to convince his father to zip it.
Then again, Paul the Elder's views don't come out of nowhere. They come from the same old-style libertarian base that Paul the Younger is no doubt counting on to jump-start his campaign.
The old libertarians are not just advocates of small government or limited government. They regard government as such as the enemy. Even those who are not openly declared anarchists—and there were plenty of those—are hard-pressed to admit find any branch of government they would support, and that hatred and suspicion of government extends to the police and the military. As a result, the libertarians have generally borrowed the foreign policy of the far left, in which American "imperialism" and the "military-industrial complex" are always the real enemy. When you spend your time nursing an unwarranted hostility toward your own country, you tend to end up indulging an unwarranted sympathy toward its sworn enemies.
So maybe Ron Paul should keep on talking. If he isn't doing his son any favors, he might do us some favors by reminding us where Rand Paul came from and leading us to ask some hard questions about how far the apple has fallen from the tree.